Todd’s academic bureaucracy bleg

Todd Zywicki asks:

I’m looking for literature analyzing academic bureaucracies, especially
from a public choice-type perspective. The parallels with government
bureaucracies seem obvious in terms of empire-building and
budget-maximizing proclivities, but I haven’t been able to turn up any
good resources that gives me a good model and analysis of the problem.

Leave your suggestions in MR comments, also check the unusually quiet VC readers.  I’ll recommend Henry Hansemann on non-profits, plus that JPE article on why tenure allows professors to hire smart people without fear of being laid off because of the new competition.  Who is the market-oriented researcher from the south with all the papers on academic rent-seeking?  Let’s not forget Tullock’s The Organization of Inquiry or Buchanan’s Academia in Anarchy, that rant against the 1960s. 

The quest for control is often more important than budget maximization, but arguably the same is true in political bureaucracy as well.  Budget maximization is an overrated hypothesis.  Status also often plays a larger role than budget, especially in research universities.

My view is that the gains from making the most productive people autonomous (i.e., tenure) outweigh the costs from all the resulting nonsense, but of course that is a self-serving attitude.  Unlike in a political bureaucracy, a small percentage of the workers produce most of the valued outputs.  So if many people shirk, tenure doesn’t actually waste that much in terms of resources.

And why do good universities need those silly silly endowments? 


There are some related issues in one or two Joao Ricardo Faria's articles in Kyklos. But I am not sure about the volume/issue right now.


See McCormick and Meiners JLE, and Brennan and Tollison, in Toward a Theory of the
Rent Seeking Society.

I think Dennis Coates (UMBC) and Brad Humphreys (formerly UMBC, now U of IL) have a couple of papers on academic bureaucrats. I haven't read them but I think they're posted on Coates's web page--an easy find via Google.

Regarding the role of tenure plays in the survival of non-profit institutions see :

Coelho, Philip R.P. "Rules, Authorities and the Design of Not-for-Profit Firms," Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 10, No. 2 (June, 1976), pp.416- 428.

The gist of his hypothesis is that faculty are tenured to make them de facto residual claimants.

Following up on this, William Brown has an article in 1997 in the Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, pp. 441-61; here is a link I copied on it:

Can anyone tell me what the JPE paper on tenure is. Incidentally I'm doing research for Henry Hansmann on a related topic.



The truly interesting question about tenure is why so few professors follow Herrnstein's example.

The JPE paper on tenure is Lorne Carmichael's "Incentives in Academics: Why is There Tenure?" The Journal of Political Economy > Vol. 96, No. 3 (Jun., 1988), pp. 453-472
it's a nice clean story

Occam's razor
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William of OckhamOccam's razor (also spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. Originally a tenet of the reductionist philosophy of nominalism, it is more often taken today as a heuristic maxim that advises economy, parsimony, or simplicity in scientific theories. Occam's razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (law of succinctness):

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